A lot has been written about how important it is to identify our leadership strengths and work from them. When we do that, we feel fulfilled and energized, and are able to achieve more powerful results. However, it is actually possible to overuse leadership strengths to the point that they become a weakness, derailing – instead of driving – our success. For example, if overused, “attention to detail” can go from being a strength to an obsession that causes us to micromanage projects to a stall and disengages our employees.
Recognizing when a leadership strength is being overused requires self-awareness and objectivity. We need to be able to step back from a particular situation and assess if our “go-to” strength is helping or hurting. The most self-aware leaders can sense when they are pushing their strengths to unintended results. At the very least, they have the wisdom to ask for feedback from others on whether they are riding their strengths to negative effects. Executive Coaching is very helpful to build this type of self-awareness. Coaching provides the insights to recognize your leadership strengths, the extent to which you should use them, and when they might start tipping towards being a liability. A strength tool I use to help leaders build this type of awareness is the Strengths Profile.
Examples of overusing leadership strengths
- Silvia embraces a strength that the Strengths Profile labels Time Optimizer. That’s the ability to organize your time wisely and productively, often squeezing as much as you can into every minute of the day. Most days she uses the strength to her advantage. However, often she gives into her temptation to squeeze in one more conversation or task before other scheduled commitments, causing herself to be late and unnecessarily stressed out. Recently a client said to her, “you always push our meetings back a half hour because you are running late”. Silvia is now working to recognize when she is on the verge of overusing her strength, so she can pull back.
- Eugene’s major leadership strength is his Work Ethic. He puts in long hours, over long periods of time, and usually works harder than others. This strength has allowed Eugene to build a strong consulting firm and become a national speaker in great demand. However, his intense work ethic is often exhausting to his employees and firm partners, as he expects them to be responsive to his constant requests and is disappointed when they do not display the same work ethic. Eugene has come to realize this strength has created his success and does not plan to step back from his approach but he is learning to be more in tune with how challenging it can be for others. He’s also changed his hiring approach to ensure that the new hires can handle his intense work ethic.
- Mary is a Vice President of Sales at a national consumer packaged goods company. She has been with the company for years and enjoys a very successful career. The Strengths Profile helped her recognize that one of her top leadership strengths is her Drive and Self-Motivation. She never needs to be told what to do next, as she moves from task to task setting higher goals and targets than others would. Through the coaching, Mary realized that her strength of drive has created her success but often at the expense of other things, like building strong teams. Many of her direct reports had a difficult time keeping up with her. So, she started paying more attention to when her strength is helping or hurting her work relationships and her ability to be a good team leader.
When done well, leading from your strengths can be extremely empowering yet take it too far and you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot. How do you start developing self-awareness of this issue?
- Ask others for feedback
- Pay attention to how you feel when using your leadership strengths
- Look objectively at your results and at how others react for signs that you might be pushing your strengths too far
Contact me if you’d like help in figuring out the blindspots in your leadership strengths and how to course correct before they become counterproductive.